POLITICIANS and more than 50 members of the public gathered in Helensburgh this week to start their fight back against the “aggressive over-development” of one of the area’s most scenic natural beauty spots.

The Save Loch Long: Protect Portincaple campaign was officially launched on Monday evening and has already gained cross-party support from MSPs Jackie Baillie (Labour), Ross Greer (Greens) and Maurice Corry (Conservative).

All three were in attendance at Helensburgh Parish Church to throw their weight behind the Portincaple Residents’ Association (PRA) as they seek to preserve their tiny hamlet, near Garelochhead, in the face of proposals to build 36 new homes and a 22-bed hotel along the lochside.

A ‘screening and scoping’ application for the plans – which also include a slipway, gift shop and boat and cycle hire – was lodged in July 2019 by MH Planning Associates, on behalf of Mr Pelham Olive, though no formal planning application has yet been submitted to Argyll and Bute Council.

READ MORE: Campaign to launch against Portincaple development plans

Opening the meeting, PRA member Ron Fletcher told the crowd: “I have lived in Portincaple since 1974. It’s such a friendly place and my family was quite quickly accepted into the local area.

“There weren’t that many houses when we moved in but it has grown very slowly over the last 45 years or so.

“The population at the moment is 122 - if all the rooms are filled you could be looking at another 344 people, and another 112 cars. The road is not built for that sort of traffic.

“We think we have probably got the majority of support in Portincaple.”

Ross Greer, Green MSP for the West of Scotland region, urged campaigners to look to the recent backlash against the Flamingo Land Loch Lomond proposals for inspiration, after around 60,000 objections were received and the developers eventually withdrew their application.

He said: “When we started the Flamingo Land campaign I don’t think any of us thought we would win.

READ MORE: Plans for major development at Portincaple go public

“We have another opportunity here to rally support from across the country against aggressive over-development.

“There is something really special about the area that can and should be defended.

“There are so many areas of this development that simply would not work.

“It really struck me as the definition of over-development. It would overwhelm the community it is being put right in the heart of, something we are becoming all too familiar with as developers are looking to maximise their profits.”

Mr Greer added: “The planning process is stacked against communities.

“If a proposal is rejected, the developer has the right to appeal but the community does not.

“Even with a planning process that is not designed for communities we can still beat this. I am genuinely optimistic we can do that at Portincaple.

READ MORE: Portincaple residents' fears over major lochside plans

“This is a campaign we can win and I am really excited to be going on this journey with you all.”

Helensburgh’s MSP Jackie Baillie said Portincaple is “probably the most stunning part” of her constituency and suggested that while she is not against development, the scale of the current proposals would be “hugely damaging”.

“In this case,” she said, “the scale is inappropriate, it is far too big and looks really ugly. It would absolutely be a blot on the landscape.

“It sometimes feels as if it does not matter the quality of your argument, you feel as though the decision has already been made.

“Having cross-party support is important.

“You need to get it right first time round. I am always an optimist but I do not underestimate the scale of the challenge you face.”

READ MORE: Politicians back concerns over Portincaple development plans

Putting forward the idea of a small, specialist diving centre being incorporated into any alternative development plans, the Conservatives’ Maurice Corry, also a west of Scotland MSP, said: “All things are possible but go about it constructively.

“These things are not easy but I hope that we are successful.”

Nick Kempe, from Parkswatch Scotland, pointed to the rich biodiversity in Portincaple and said there is “a whole lot of potential for the area” but admitted his concern at the current trend of development proposals in and around the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park.

“This is a relatively small development compared to some others but we have lots going on around Loch Lomond, so you shouldn’t see this alone,” he said.

“There is a fundamental contradiction about development in areas which should be protected.

“If we keep chopping medium aged woodland you are never going to end up with ancient woodland. You have got to reach a stage where someone takes a stand.

“There are lots of other communities in a similar position.”

READ MORE: Catch up with all the latest news from across Helensburgh and Lomond here